Software Development Today: Accessing the Creative Mind

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Software Development Today: Accessing the Creative Mind

Is today’s developer the modern “Renaissance man”?

For decades, there has been ongoing discussion about the value of understanding individual personality types in business settings.  Probably the best-known tool over the years has been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI.  While opinions on using the MBTI in business vary, I have personally found it very useful in understanding colleagues, avoiding conflict, and building teams.

Several studies have looked at software developers through the MBTI lens.  Nearly all found that the most common type was ISTJ, indicating Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging, generally followed by INTJ and INTP.  While ISTJ represents about 11% of the general population, it typically represented over 20% of the software developers in the studies.  What does this tell us? To me, one obvious take-away is the prominen­­­­­­ce of “I”, signaling introversion.

While it may be true that most software engineers tend to be introverted, older stereotypes have faded and perceptions have improved dramatically over the past decade or so.  Today’s software engineer can communicate with others, has a sense of humor, a social life, some awareness of the world, and is all-around pretty cool.

Panamint Range
Death Valley National Park

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Captain”. 

Early in my career, it was not so groovy.  The SE of that day was often perceived as a humorless introvert with a mind that only processed logic.  To be fair, this was probably influenced by sci-fi, TV shows, and other pop culture of the day.

Certainly, the Star Trek character, Mr. Spock, helped contribute to this earlier perception as the anthropomorphic part man, part machine, who eschewed all emotion.  “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Captain”.  Was this how we saw beings existing in a future digital world?  As walking computers?  Perhaps this was a 1960s view of a future domain, but our next-millennial cultural perspective has changed this, and has given us a new view on the architects of today’s digital world.

No paintbrushes required.

“Sunset at Mariposa”
Sedona, AZ

While development is inherently logical, today’s SE cannot contribute at a high level without a strong measure of creativity.  We tend to think of the “artiste”, perfecting brushstrokes or dreaming up musical themes, as an almost polar opposite of the engineer – but in truth, they’re not so different.  Today’s software engineer must reveal the artiste in his or her own work.  Problem solving requires creativity, and people who genuinely love to design and code are fundamentally problem solvers.

 

Even though stereotypes emerge and morph through time, this is not a new concept.  Leonardo DaVinci is perhaps best known for his art such as Mona Lisa, or The Last Supper.  But this 16th century Renaissance man was a military engineer for 17 years – he designed weapons and cranes and found new ways to apply levers and gears.  His genius traversed multiple disciplines, and he offered up one of man’s early designs for a flying machine.

“Moraine Lake”
Banff National Park

With such a broad ability to combine imagination with engineering precision, DaVinci is sometimes called the first “systems engineer”.  In DaVinci, we have artist and engineer sharing a brain.

In truth, I did not personally know DaVinci, but I have personally known many hundreds of developers, and it’s become clear to me that really good developers are not simply implementing logic.  Yes, they can be uncompromising in rational thinking (decades of using compilers is excellent training), but there’s more to it: top developers combine intellect and creativity with their ability to be very detail oriented – this is what generates great code, and what ultimately makes great products for our clients.

Through the “lens of creativity”: an essential view.

“Moose River Sunset”
Thendara, NY

At Syncro, we have no “coders”.  Each team member is skilled in both the creative/problem solving elements, as well as the details that make it come together. Our clients rely on Syncro providing outside-the-box thinking that is essential to product development.  In virtually every project, we look beyond our assigned tasks to improve a client product by solving problems that arise, even if outside our software domain.  We solve problems with multiprocessing architecture, imaging, lighting, system throughput, hardware limitations, networking, workflow, database access, security, UX, mechanical fixtures, robotic precision, and the list goes on.

Top developers want to build something; they want to metaphorically start with a chunk of rock and carve it into something tangible: a product that brings value to our clients and to their customers.  At Syncro, there’s an endogenous pride in our work that has become what we call “Syncro Inside™” – our commitment of quality to the client’s customer and the patient. This can only happen when great engineers approach tasks with passion.

As a leader who strives each day to be effective, I understand the importance of showing purpose, of listening, and of demonstrating the organization’s values both inside and outside its walls.  But it’s a true gift to have “self-inspiring” team members.  A great team is made up of developers and leaders that believe in what they do, in what the company does, and in what our clients offer their industries.  They are motivated to create, and they approach every problem by looking through this “lens of creativity”.  This self-inspiration is the source of their passion.

“Artists Palette”
Death Valley National Park

Time for a new Renaissance?

Perhaps time will look back at this period and acknowledge software developers as 21st century Renaissance men and women.  Maybe we’ll have framed snippets of elegant code hanging in our hallways – or, maybe not.

At Syncro, we value creativity and we find that it extends beyond software development; we have team members who flex their creative muscles as artists, musicians, woodworkers, designers, film-makers, writers, and photographers.

On our office walls, we have hundreds of framed nature photographs all taken by our team members.  You’ll see a few of them sprinkled throughout this blog.

Are you my type?

If the MBTI interests you, there is plenty of information to be found on-line, including self-tests.    Full disclosure:  Even though I love to code when I have time, the MBTI does not classify me as an introvert – I test to be an ENTJ.

 

Dale Van Aken is Founder and Chairman of Syncro Medical, a technology company serving medical product manufacturers. In roles as an engineer, manager and consultant, Dale accumulated a wide range of expertise in successful product development. Through that experience, Dale developed a business model that Syncro still employs. It operates at the intersection of domestic outsourcing and high quality expertise, and does so with a strong emphasis on relationships. He has carefully built and trained a leadership team and has continually refined the approach now used by Syncro to ensure quality in both the client relationship and the resulting product. Outside of Syncro, Dale is active in local and international charities. A father of four, he enjoys cycling and woodworking and is involved in community sports and music programs. He has been twice recognized by Inc. magazine as an Inc. 500 CEO.

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